The New Zealand Heartland XV survived a scare to beat New Zealand Marist 41-39 in Timaru in their annual encounter.
Just after halftime Marist led by 22 points but could not quite hang on against a fast finishing Heartland side, who notched up their sixth McRae Cup win on the trot.
NZ Heartland coach Barry Matthews said it was an outstanding comeback.
Matthews said the substitutes bench made a big impact.
“To be fair it was a very good NZ Marist side.”
NZ Marist co-coach Nigel Walsh said it was shame they could not hold on after all the hard work.
Played in sunshine, it was perfect conditions for running rugby and both sides entertained with the Heartland side scoring six tries to five.
Wing Christian Vainerere scored the opener for Marist after five minutes.
The Heartland side scored again against the run of play when openside Seta Koroitamana and second Ethan Pollock combined to put Clare away for his second try to make it 14-5 midway through the half.
Marist however struck back after first-five Peter Breen intercepted the ball and got his side hot on attack, with centre Kameli Kuruyabaki stepping through some poor defence to score, and Breen converted. Breen then landed a penalty to take the lead 15-14.
Right on halftime Marist extended their lead to 29-14 when lock JJ Manning produced the perfect inside pass to send Vainerere in for his second try, with Breen converting.
Two minutes into the second half Marist were in again when big prop Seseimani Toupo put on a magic step to beat the defence and sprint in for the try under the posts and Breen again converted to give Marist what looked like an unassailable 22 point lead.
Prop Scott Cameron bagged a double from close range with four minutes and suddenly the Heartland side were within 10 points.
Percival then pounced on a loose ball and sprinted in from 50m and converted to trail by 36-33 with 18 minutes left.
Wright had the presence of mind not to pick up the bouncing ball but controlled it with his foot and fell on it.
With eight minutes left Marist took back the lead 39-38, with a Breen penalty.
The Heartland side however managed to stay composed and Percival landed a penalty of his own to snatch the win.
Marist tried hard in the final five minutes but could not conjure up a last gasp winner.
For the Heartland side Cameron, lock Eric Duff and abrasive blindside Bryn Hudson impressed in the forwards, while Everard Reid made a big impact when he came on at lock.
In the backs halfback Andrew Stephens was very tidy as was Percival outside him. Willie McGoon also made some great metres when he came on as a substitute wing.
Marist had several forwards who stood out including big lock Villaime Rarasea, blindside Sam Vea and No 8 Brad Tucker.
For most of the first half they starved the Heartland side on any decent ball and caused them headaches in the lineouts.
In the backs Donaldson played extremely well at halfback, James Hawkey was solid at second-five while Breen put in a commanding performance inside him.
AT A GLANCE
NZ Heartland 41 (Craig Clare 2 tries, Scott Cameron 2, Jarred Percival, Willie Wright, Percival 4 con, pen)
NZ Marist 39 (Christian Vainerere 2, Kameli Kuruyabaki, Ben Werthmuller Seseimani Toupo tries, Peter Breen con 4, 2 pen)